I applaud opinion page editor Sarah Garrecht Gassen’s March 10 column on her determination to improve early childhood education.

As community members and business leaders, we understand the importance of a well-educated workforce. However, K-12 struggles, resulting in businesses being unable to find skilled employees to fill their available jobs.

Statistics show that about two-thirds of fourth- and eighth-graders score “below proficient” in reading on the National Assessment of Education Progress and 60 percent of fourth graders and 67 percent of eight graders are “below proficient” in math.

Think about these statistics and what they mean to our community, our state, our country and our future.

The overlooked potential that could change this trend is a laser-sharp focus on our youngest citizens. Why? Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops by age 5 and the quality of this development relies on the interaction between loving adults who read, talk and share the world with their children from the moment they’re born.

Today, 67 percent of parents with children under 6 are in the workforce, leaving their children in the care of others. Because of the rapid brain development of these young children, quality childcare matters.

Additionally, a safe, secure and stimulating place to leave a child allows parents to work and contribute financially to their families and the community. It’s a “win-win” opportunity. Without it, learning lags and developmental gaps increase, leading to higher high school dropout rates, teen pregnancies and increased incarcerations. Clearly the long-term effect of high-quality childcare affects the nature of our future workforce and overall economy.

As the chair of the First Things First (FTF) Pima North Regional Council, I have seen the impact of a high-quality early childhood system that supports the development, health and early education of all Arizona’s children, birth to age 5.

First Things First has successfully defined high quality childcare through their Quality First program, which works with childcare centers and preschools across Arizona to improve early learning for our youngest children.

FTF regional councils around the state provide scholarships to high quality childcare facilities for some low-income families, though not nearly enough for all who are in need. The fact is this: most families have little access to high quality childcare due to costs and availability, putting our potential work force at risk.

The Star’s opinion department is wise to look to our community for ways to expand early childhood education opportunities. The goal: for ALL families to be able to send their children to high-quality preschools that will provide the foundation for all future learning AND earning.

Marcia Klipsch is a community volunteer and chair of First Things First’s Pima North Regional Council. Contact her at mklipsch@aol.com